Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Tweet Slams McConnell on Obamacare Repeal Failure; State Department Briefing on North Korea; Guam Rep. Bordallo Talks North Korean Threat; Trump's "Fire & Fury" Comment Not Scripted. Aired 2:30- 3p ET

Aired August 9, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:46] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So in the thick of all this North Korea news. And again, we're waiting for that State Department briefing to begin.

The president has tweeted. The president has tweeted, and he is slamming the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, in this new tweet. Throw it up on the screen as we bring in David Chalian, so we can see what the president has tweeted.

"Senator Mitch McConnell and I had excessive expectations but I don't think so. After seven years of hearing repeal and replace, why not done."

David Chalian, what's going on?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, that's a good question, Brooke. It will surprise no one watching that Donald Trump and an establishment Republican like the majority leader Mitch McConnell do not see eye to eye on everything. That will surprise no one. And we saw what just happened in the Senate with health care when Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, as a team, were unable to get through the health care repeal and replace bill, so obviously, the finger pointing you all saw began right after that bill went down.

What we're seeing here is in response to Mitch McConnell's comments yesterday when he was back home in Kentucky and he talked about how the president is sort of new to this business, doesn't fully understand the legislative process, perhaps had unrealistic expectations of how fast things can get done.

This morning, the social media director for President Trump was out there tweeting back at McConnell, pushing back, saying, hey, what, you need another four years after you had seven years to repeal and replace? And it seems now his boss, the president of the United States, has joined in this pushback against the Senate majority leader.

This begs the question for the president to answer. How does he think this kind of tactic is going to help him get his agenda through in the fall when Congress comes back, repeal and replace, tax reform, infrastructure, whatever it is he wants to push through, how does needling the majority leader of the United States Senate, who has to corral these votes for you, help you achieve that goal?

[14:35:49] BALDWIN: Excellent question. And as I'm listening to you talk about it, I was just sitting down with about seven different Trump supporters, and they called them useless Republicans, fake Republicans, for basically thwarting what they thought -- what the president wanted to get through. It was fascinating how you see it and you can add the Senate majority leader in the column of people who the president has left flapping in the breeze, so to speak, along with the A.G., to a degree, H.R. McMaster, and others, and how is that helpful, also.

CHALIAN: Yes. No, and it's a good point what you're saying about those voters you were talking about. We hear that time and again, and I think what you've been seeing from the president -- if you look back over this whole health care battle and in the aftermath of it, to his tweets, his public comments, he refers to "they," the Republicans on Capitol Hill.


CHALIAN: Not we, the party. He has clearly separated himself out from what he sees as the inaction of Washington, D.C. He wants that to be how Congress is branded, not him, the change-maker, the guy that's coming in here to disrupt. So he's always seeking that separation. This is another way of doing that. And I think you're right that a lot of his supporters are seeing that way, the way that Trump is framing it.

What is so interesting, Brooke, is that this all comes a day after Donald Trump injected himself into this Senate race in Alabama to replace Jeff Sessions' seat, and he got in to endorse in the Republican primary, which is happening next week, Mitch McConnell's favorite candidate, and it was largely seen as a move to sort of, like, here, Mitch, I'll help you out.


BALDWIN: David, let's continue in just a second. Forgive me.

We got to go to the State Department. Briefing has just begun.



HEATHER NAUERT, SPOKESPERSON, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: You turn around and say that to the folks from Togo. They think it's important.


NAUERT: Our folks are there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm saying it is important. I'm not taking away from the importance of Togo. I would like to ask about something else.

NAUERT: Yes, sir. Go right ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'll let you guess what it is. North Korea. Can you explain to the American public and perhaps the rest of the world exactly who they should be listening to in the U.S. government when it comes to North Korea and what the United States policy and posture is?

NAUERT: Well, I think the United States -- and some of you may disagree with this -- but the United States is on the same page. Whether it's the White House, the State Department, the Department of Defense, we are speaking with one voice. And the world is, in fact, speaking with one voice. And we saw that as it came out of the U.N. Security Council with the resolution that passed less than a week ago. The United States, along with other nations, condemned North Korea for their destabilizing activities. They've continued to take part in that. Two ICBM launches in less than a month's period of time. The world remains very concerned about that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. But you don't think that the president's comments are at odds with those of the secretaries and other officials or is this kind of a good cop/bad cop routine that we're seeing here, trying to coax the maximum you can get out of the North Korean government.

NAUERT: Well, I think we've talked about our pressure campaign, the United States pressure campaign that's backed by many other nations, and we so that pressure campaign, which is a long-term campaign, but that campaign is working. It is ratcheting up the pressure on North Korea. The president spoke about this yesterday. Secretary Tillerson spoke about by plane back to the United States earlier today. And the secretary spoke about the president's words. I think that is what you're referring to. And he said this. Look, the president is sending a strong message to North Korea in the kind of language that North Korea understands. The secretary has talked in the past about how the president is a very effective spokesman. People listen to him. And those were the president's words, sending a message loud and clear to North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does that mean -- and this is my last one. Does that mean that you have come to the determination that the only way to get through to Kim Jong-Un is with the same kind of bombastic rhetoric?

NAUERT: There are lots of ways, we believe, to get through to Kim Jong-Un and his regime. And our issue is not with the people of the DPRK. It is with the regime itself. And that message has been strongly sent throughout this administration. When the president and Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson agree that the top security issue for the United States would, in fact, be safety and security of Americans first, of course, but would in fact be the DPRK and destabilizing activities that illegal nuclear and ballistic weapons programs that continue to take place.

I assume you have more questions about this.

[14:50:25] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks, Heather. So, in the president's remarks, and in the secretary's comments about the president's remarks, saying that it was the kind of language that North Korea would understand and almost, in a way, diplomatic speak, is that something -- is that an approach that the State Department was involved in that the president took yesterday?

NAUERT: The State Department and the president, the secretary and the president, have ongoing conversations. They spoke earlier today. This pressure campaign with North Korea is something that we are all in agreement on, folks in the U.S. government are all in agreement on. So, nothing has changed in that regard.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sorry, can you just extrapolate. The president and the secretary spoke today.

NAUERT: They did.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is when he was in Guam or on the plane?

NAUERT: I'm not sure where exactly. In transit, though, as he is on his way back to the United States, is my understanding. Exact at what point or time, I'm not sure.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you clarify in which time zone?

NAUERT: That's a good question, Andrea. It happened -- let me get back to you on the time of that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. But it happened while he was en route back --


NAUERT: I believe it was--


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It wasn't like last week?

NAUERT: No, no, no. It was within the last 24 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any idea how long it was.

NAUERT: They spoke for about an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So that means two calls since Monday, correct?

NAUERT: I'd have to check with you on the first call you're referring to. I'm not certain of that.

BALDWIN: White House announced a call of an hour with General Kelly and the president and the secretary on Monday morning, Monday morning, east coast time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right. But I mean -- OK. So we have two calls now.


Andrea, hi.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Hi. Could I follow up. The secretary's call was, though, well after the "fire and fury" language. Senator McCain and others, Republicans and Democrats, have complained that it was, quote, "bombastic," in Senator Feinstein's view, "not helpful," said Senator McCain that, not Eisenhower, not Reagan, no other president that he knew of would have used such language. And the implication from all of the critics is that the president's language implied the use of nuclear force. Is that the way the secretary read it? And did the secretary have any early warning from his earlier phone call that this was going to happen or did he only speak to the president in the aftermath?

NAUERT: He spoke to the president after the fact, after the president made his announcement. You know, as people look at this and some consider comments to have been alarming, I would have to go back to this, let's consider what is alarming. What is alarming, two ICBM tests in less than a month, two nuclear tests that took place last year. As a matter of fact, when there's an earthquake in China, I get many e-mails and calls from all of you asking was it another nuclear test. That is how big of a deal this is, what is going on.


NAUERT: Let me finish, OK, please. It is a big deal what is going on. It is a concern to the world, not just the United States. Those are alarming actions. They are provocative actions on the part of North Korea.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: My question is, given those provocations from North Korea, which has been belligerent in the extreme, granted, stipulated, is it helpful or unhelpful for the president to use the kind of language that we have seen previously coming from Kim Jong-Un, not from presidents of the United States? Is he exacerbating the problem?

NAUERT: The president spoke to him, to Kim Jong-Un, in a language that Secretary Tillerson has said and said this morning, in the kind of language that Kim Jong-Un will understand. We would like to see results. The pressure campaign, we see that working. The international community is in agreement with the United States and many of our partners and allies on putting additional pressure on North Korea. The secretary happens to be coming back from the ASEAN conference where they had tremendous success. It was a good week for diplomacy. I know you all want to obsess over statements and all of that and want to make a lot of noise out of that, but what is important to keep in mind is that this diplomatic pressure at ASEAN, at the meeting of the 10 Asian nations along with the United States came to a joint agreement and a joint statement and put out a very strong condemnation of North Korea. We are all singing from the same hymn book.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A lot of us have reported on the success of that effort at the U.N. and ensuing days. That doesn't take away from that question, the lack of a national security interagency process in this instance with the presidential statement that has perhaps undercut the previous success.

NAUERT: I don't know that I would agree with you on that.

Next question.

[14:45:07] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- saying all options on the table, which is, you know, has been really the traditional kind of response in the past. Is that a new kind of policy? It used to be that the United States would say, we have, you know, the privilege or the right to use whatever options available to us, including, presumably, you know, aggressive military action.

NAUERT: We've had a few statements that have come out today. Secretary Mattis addressed this very issue in a pretty strong statement that he issued earlier today. I'll just read a little bit of it to you in case you missed it. "The United States and our allies have demonstrated capabilities an unquestionable commitment to defend ourselves from an attack. Kim Jong-Un should take heed of the U.N. Security Council's unified voice and statements from governments the world over who agree that DPRK poses a threat to the global security and stability. The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons." And it goes on. I think the United States is all talking with one voice.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can I take issue with your voice of the word "obsess." We're not obsessing about this. This is the president of the United States threatening a nuclear armed country, whether you want to accept it or not, a country that is armed with nuclear weapons, "with fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen." I don't think that it's obsessing to want to know what the -- you know, to have a further clarification of exactly what that means and whether or not it means that you're preparing to send fire and fury raining down on the North Korean regime.

NAUERT: And I'll let the president's statement stand for itself.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK, but it's not obsessing to want to know more.


NAUERT: You know what? I see a packed room of journalists here, and normally there aren't half as many as there are here today. So, that shows a greater indication of your --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Heather, they're all here for you, not --


NAUERT: They're here for you.

STEVE DORSEY, REPORTER, CBS NEWS: One more. NAUERT: Hi. And your name is?

DORSEY: Steve Dorsey from CBS News.

NAUERT: Hi, Steve.

DORSEY: Hi. Just a quick change in topic. Can you tell us about the incidents that have been going on in Havana affecting U.S. government workers there?

NAUERT: Yes. So, we are certainly aware of what has happened there. Give me one second here. And that's why we got a little bit of a late start getting some recent updates for you on this.

So, some U.S. government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba, on official duties, so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there, they've reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms. I'm not going to be able to give you a ton of information about this today, but I'll tell you what we do have that we can provide so far. We don't have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents. We can tell you that on May 23, the State Department took further action. We asked two officials who were accredited at the embassy of Cuba in the United States to depart the United States. Those two individuals have departed the United States. We take this situation very seriously. One of the things we talk about here often is that the safety and security of American citizens at home and abroad is our top priority. We're taking that situation seriously, and it's under investigation right now.

DORSEY: If the U.S. doesn't have a definitive answer on the cause or source of the incidents, why did it ask those two Cuban embassy officials to depart the U.S?

NAUERT: Look, some of our people have had the option of leaving Cuba as a result, for medical reasons.

DORSEY: How many?

NAUERT: I can't tell you the exact number of that, but I can --


DORSEY: Was it in the tens, dozens?

NAUERT: I'm not going to characterize it. I do not believe it was that large. Certainly, not that large. But we had to bring some Americans home, or some Americans chose to come home as a result of that. And as a result of that, we've asked two Cubans to leave the United States and they have.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In other words, this is a reciprocity thing?

NAUERT: I'm not going to call it as such, but we asked two people to go home.

DORSEY: And how long has this been going on for?

NAUERT: We first heard about these incidents back --


BALDWIN: We heard some of those questions on North Korea.

John Park still with me. And now someone who once held that post, former State Department spokesman, and CNN national security analyst, Admiral John Kirby.

So, Admiral Kirby, just first up to you. I was jotting down notes. Sounds like the tick-tock of this was, the president talked about the "fire and the fury" yesterday right at that opioids meeting, made the news, then hopped on the phone with the secretary of state. It sounds to me that she was talking about the pressure campaign, because obviously, all the questions are about, well, is that appropriate to use that sort of language, sort of emulating the kind of language we would normally hear out of Pyongyang, and she says the state and POTUS are on the same page and that it's effective. How do you see it?

[14:50:02] REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: This was -- this is definitely strategy after the fact, in my view. I think these comments took everybody by surprise and then they all had to scramble for how they were going to sort of wiggle their way through this, how they were going to make sense of it. And obviously, what they -- first thing they wanted to do was put Secretary of State Tillerson out there, lead with the State Department, which is smart, and that's why you saw him talk to reporters on the plane. Remember, Brooke, he doesn't like to talk to reporters, period, and he certainly doesn't like to do it on the plane. So this was something he was pretty much, I'm sure, told to do, and to use language that sorted of calmed things down, maybe take a little bit of the air out of the tire. And that phrase that you heard Heather repeat, "he spoke to Kim Jong-Un," meaning Trump, "in language that the dictator would understand," I have no doubt, when I heard Tillerson say that, that was a planned line. That was something they rehearsed that he was going to have to square the circle on the president's rhetoric. Then you see Secretary Mattis' statement, which was very strong, and yet also contextual, trying to put the president's fiery rhetoric -- no pun intended -- into some sort of context. That came after Tillerson. Again, I think that was totally deliberate. Also, I think totally deliberate that it was a written statement, that you didn't see Mattis on camera, that it was put out in writing so that it would be unambiguous and wouldn't force him to have to take any questions about it coming afterwards. So, I think this was all strategy after the fact, to be honest with you.

BALDWIN: That's fascinating to sort of lift the veil and understand how things happen, right, once, as we've learned from the White House, that the president's own phrase was improvised, that we know that the tone was planned, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but the words, fire and fury, totally off the cuff.

John, how do you see it?


BALDWIN: Go ahead.

KIRBY: I was just going to say, at this point, when he says that, I mean, your feet now are well out over the diving board. You're on your way into the pool. And I think they just realized that before they hit the surface of the water, they had to, you know, they had to get themselves into better form. I hate to use that analogy but that's what they were doing.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

John, what do you think?

JOHN PARK, DIRECTOR, KOREA WORKING GROUP & ADJUNCT LECTURER IN PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL & MIT RESEARCHER: Brooke, we're looking at a cycle over almost 24 hours after the statement came out. In a few days' time, the U.S. and South Koreans will be doing a regularly scheduled military exercise. We don't have 24 hours to dial back statements in those kinds of situations. So I'm concerned and my colleagues are concerned about miscommunication and misunderstandings. When any given party feels that the statement is clear from the get- go, there's always room for misunderstanding. All the reason why you need these messages very carefully crafted and signaled in a coordinated fashion from the get-do.

BALDWIN: To both of my Johns, thank you so much.


BALDWIN: Let's stay on this. Congresswoman representing Guam, Madeleine Bordallo, is with me.

Congresswoman, welcome.

REP. MADELEINE BORDALLO, (D), GUAM: Thank you very much, Brooke, for having me.

BALDWIN: So the governor of Guam said in a video aimed at reassuring those back on the island that there is no change in threat level following the news out of North Korea. What is your reaction to this threat back home?

BORDALLO: Well, I'm very concerned about this whole issue. And first of all, a threat is a threat. And I don't think North Korea's going to give us a week in advance notice or anything. So, it's dangerous. And as I said, a threat is a threat.

The people of Guam are very concerned. North Korea's remarks are very dangerous. And it further heightens the tension in the region, in our region. I've lived in Guam almost all my life. I was there right after World War II. And I continue to work with the Department of Defense partners on Guam to ensure that Guam and its people are safe. And we had similar threats in 2013, and that was the time when I met with Senator Panetta and -- or Secretary Panetta and Secretary Hagel. And they immediately, after that discussion, deployed the THAAD to Guam, which is a missile defense operation, with 300 Army personnel. And I recently have discussed, very recently, maybe a couple weeks to three weeks ago, during a hearing, with Secretary Mattis and Admiral Harris about the situation. Are we safe? We're always hearing threats and so forth. And they said that they have continually promised me that they would take good care of our people and of Guam. So, I have that in the back of my mind.


BORDALLO: And I know that we've worked many years, the department. We have two large military bases on Guam, Anderson Air Force base, the Navy base, and we have close to 2,000 Army National Guard, and we have about 6,000 military personnel, 168,000 population, all U.S. citizens.


BALDWIN: Sure. Let me just jump in, Congresswoman. Of course, all the Americans on the island, and being 2100 or so miles away from the peninsula, just last --


BORDALLO: That's correct.

[14:55:07] BALDWIN: -- when you heard the president's choice of words to an unhinged leader close to where you live, what did you -- what was your reaction, your first reaction?

BORDALLO: Well, definitely I didn't like his words, and I knew they were going to bring --


BALDWIN: You didn't?

BORDALLO: Of course, they were going to bring up opposition to Kim Jong-Un. He's also one that is very excitable and does these things constantly, threatening the U.S. So I knew there was going to be tension.

BALDWIN: Does this time feel different? You referenced the 2013 incident. Does this feel different to you or a threat is a threat is a threat?

BORDALLO: Yes. Yes, because in 2013, we were just part of the threat. They were threatening South Korea. They were threatening Japan, and Guam. Now it's singularly Guam. And that worries me a great deal. And I think that if the president would just try to work diplomatically with the president of North Korea and maybe some of our leaders in this region, that we could work out something. I'm strictly, you know, working diplomatically with leaders.

BALDWIN: Sure, no, it sounds like that is precisely what the State Department just echoed and had what we've heard from Secretary Tillerson.

For now, Congresswoman --


BALDWIN: -- I appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

BORDALLO: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

We are also now learning that President Trump's warning to North Korea was improvised and not part of some sort of scripted statement. This is according to three people with knowledge of the remarks.

Here again is the president's message to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.


BALDWIN: "The likes which the world has never seen." This is a phrase we've heard the president repeat multiple times at campaign rallies, at his inauguration. An exaggeration so common that the president actually used it to describe the nation's opioid crisis strategy just moments before his comments on North Korea.


TRUMP: We're being very, very strong on our southern border. And I would say the likes of which this country certainly has never seen that kind of strength.

Grassroots movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.

We're all part of this very historic movement, a movement the likes of which, actually, the world has never seen before.

I see it now even more than I saw it in this great campaign, which turned out to be a movement, a movement like the world has never seen before, actually.

Unemployment is the lowest it's been in 17 years. Business enthusiasm is about as high as they've ever seen it.

We're unleashing a new era of American prosperity, perhaps like we've never seen before.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Let's start there. I have with me CNN political commentator, Ben Ferguson, and Republican strategist, Rick Wilson.

Gentlemen, welcome.

And, Ben, just turning to you, the point being the president speaks -- he uses hyperbolic language. There have been all the discussions. Do you take the president literally? do you take the president seriously? What he said 24 hours ago is a threat, it's very serious. Should the world and, more importantly, should Kim Jong-Un take that literally?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what his point was is not necessarily literally as in, you know, we're going to come after you. It was a defense. He was saying, America is not going to be screwed with. For the last eight years, we've had a policy of let's go ahead and go to the world. Let's go to China and let them take the lead. Let's go to the United Nations. Let's see if sanctions work. It has gotten us to the point where they have at least 60 nuclear weapons, miniaturized weapons, and including a missile system that can reach probably half the United States of America. So I think the president's point is, this whole idea of being P.C. and kumbaya and let's be always calm and collected has gotten them closer to them being able to bully everyone in the world. They've already threatened Guam before. They've threatened America before. They've put propaganda out there. I think the president's point is --

BALDWIN: But the implication --


FERGUSON: -- I'm not screwing around with you for another four years.

BALDWIN: Sure, but the implication, as we just heard in the State Department briefing, is what the president said, you know, it implies that use force with force, right?


FERUSON: Well, I think his point is that we're not just going to have diplomacy on the table and you're not going to keep going forward and marching and threatening the world.

BALDWIN: So you believe that?


FERGUSON: I absolutely believe that the president is making it very clear that the use of force is an option that I'm not going to run away from. If you think you can continue nuclear tests, continue a nuclear program, continuing to threaten the world and directly saying you're coming after the United States of America, you need to know this is a new day. The last eight years of a policy that allowed you to get those weapons and to be this bully, we're not going to let you have another four years of that.

BALDWIN: OK, Rick Wilson, I want to make sure I get you in --